On Grand Strand Golf: Myrtle Beach Golf Passport service to refine memberships

ablondin@thesunnews.comJuly 7, 2014 

The Myrtle Beach Golf Passport has grown into a behemoth, and the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association has decided to reel it in a bit.

The discounted rounds program operated by the owners association has hit a peak of about 15,000 members this year, and that number should decrease for a 2014-15 membership beginning Aug. 1 because of a change in membership requirements.

The Passport, which offers rates at 86 Grand Strand courses, hasn’t restricted membership in the past two years. But it is reverting back to a previous requirement that Passport holders own property in one of 14 counties in the Carolinas surrounding the Strand.

“It was originally developed with a mission to have a locals program,” said MBAGCOA executive director Tracy Conner. “Just in the past couple years we opened up the program. The board felt it was important to get back to the original intent of having a locals program, and having the best and most robust local program we could.”

The Passport exploded in memberships this year in part because the Grand Strand Senior Center’s 20-year VIP Golf Book program was discontinued last year and essentially absorbed into the Passport program.

The VIP Book peaked with about 10,000 members in the early 2000s and still had about 5,000 last year. It did not require proof of residency.

Fewer courses were accepting the VIP Book in 2013, including National Golf Management’s 22 Strand courses, which are all part of NGM’s own Primetime membership in addition to accepting the Passport, and some VIP Book members became disgruntled. The VIP Book was discontinued and essentially incorporated into the Passport program for the remainder of 2013 for loosely negotiated future considerations that became $250,000 in donations of $50,000 over five years beginning this year.

The Passport program will run from Aug. 1-July 31 for a second consecutive year and the price remains $42.50 to $$47.50, including tax. The 2014 Passport is still valid through Dec. 31.

The program has a few more changes beginning in August.

Each Passport member will receive a $20 gift certificate from new sponsor PGA Tour Superstore. Passports also include discounts on pro shop merchandise and at six restaurants.

Whereas one Passport member has been able to get an entire foursome the Passport rate, courses can now add a guest fee to the other three players in the foursome at their discretion if they are not Passport holders.

Five Passport member tournaments have been added to the 2014-15 schedule through a winter series, bringing the total to 15, and $3,000 in prizes will be added to each event. The tournaments have fields up to 120 players and varying formats and entry fees. Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday tournaments director Jeff Monday and his staff will run the tournaments for the first time, beginning with a Dec. 2 event.

For the price of a Passport, a Snowbird Passport will offer the same benefits, including the $20 gift certificate, but will be valid only from Dec. 1 through March 15. There is no residency requirement for the snowbird card.

The eligible S.C. counties are Horry, Georgetown, Charleston, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dillon, Marion, Dorchester, Williamsburg and Florence, and the eligible N.C. counties are Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender.

With the Passport accepted at about every course, and management groups such as NGM and East Coast Golf Management additionally pushing their own membership programs, the MyGolf membership club is the only program that remains in the area to compete with the Passport.

Founded and operated by former area club professional Ben Hunt since 2001, when it was called the Grand Strand Golf Association, MyGolf has rates at about 50 Strand courses, including 20 that are part of a rewards program offering a sixth round free after five paid rounds.

MyGolf has expanded from the area, however, and now includes 275 courses in 16 states and Canada. Hunt said MyGolf peaked with 63 Strand courses a few years ago.

“I think we’re doing fine in the Myrtle Beach market,” Hunt said. “[Expansion] was a long-range strategic plan I had because I knew my program at the beach would eventually be limited. … We’ve taken the footprint we created in Myrtle Beach and we’re trying to duplicate it in other markets.”

An annual MyGolf membership is $50 and MyGolf members can bring three guests with them at the same rate. A membership includes restaurant discounts, discounted-rate play days at area courses and a tee time booking service.

FootGolf kicking off

The FootGolf course at Meadowlands Golf Club is set up and will begin hosting paying customers with its Grand Opening on Saturday.

FootGolf is a combination of soccer and golf and its holes are set up to play alongside and intersperse with the club’s front-nine golf holes. The rules generally mirror the rules of golf, with 21-inch-diameter cups.

The course is set up at 2,531 yards, and rates are $15 for 18 holes and $10 for nine for adults, and $10 and $7, respectively, for juniors 14 and younger. Balls can be rented for $3 and carts for $10.

The FootGolf course is hosting a media day Thursday, and has been hosting test rounds since Wednesday. Golf continues uninterrupted at Meadowlands, as well.

Haley on Morning Drive

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will be a guest Tuesday morning on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show to announce that Myrtle Beach is the host site of the next season of the reality competition show “Big Break.”

Big Break Myrtle Beach was filmed on the Grand Strand – predominantly at Barefoot Resort – from June 11-25 and will air for 11 consecutive Tuesday nights from Oct. 7 through Dec. 16. Haley will make Golf Channel’s formal announcement of the season and its host site.

The governor is scheduled to appear just after 8 a.m. and be interviewed by show host and North Myrtle Beach native Kelly Tilghman. Morning Drive will air live from 7-9 a.m. Tuesday. Several details of Big Break Myrtle Beach will be discussed.

Carolinas Am turns 100

The Carolinas Golf Association has brought the Carolinas Amateur Championship back to its birthplace for the 100th playing of the event. It will be held Thursday through Sunday at the Chanticleer Course at Greenville Country Club.

The championship was first played in 1910 at Sans Souci Country Club in Greenville, which is now known as Greenville CC. Berrien Brooks of Columbia defeated F.M. Laxton of Charlotte, N.C., 2 and 1 to win the inaugural event. The championship was not played in 1917-18 due to World War I and from 1943-45 due to World War II.

Past winners reflect the rich history of amateur golf in the Carolinas and include Billy Joe Patton of Morganton, N.C., in 1947, ’58 and ’61; Chip Beck of Fayetteville, N.C., in 1976 and ’77; Dale Morey of High Point, N.C., in 1967; Terry Ezell of Charleston in 1989 and ’98; Paul Simson of Raleigh in 1991 and 2005; Bill Harvey of Greensboro, N.C., in 1964, ’65 and ’73; Scott Harvey of Greensboro, N.C., in 2011; and Laxton and Eugene Mills of Raleigh, N.C., who each won the tournament three times in the 1920s and ’30s.

This year’s field of 149 includes players who were exempt and others who advanced through eight qualifiers held throughout the Carolinas. Rion Moore of Georgetown and Derek MacLeod of Murrells Inlet are among those entered.

The format converted from match play to stroke play in 2010. The 6,900-yard Chanticleer Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., has an impressive slope of 155 and course rating of 75.1 from the back tees with water and or/out of bounds on 17 of the 18 holes.

Gulbis part of sweepstakes

Rounds of golf and dinner with LPGA Tour member and model Natalie Gulbis are included in the prizes for an ongoing sweepstakes by National Golf Management, which manages 22 Strand courses and hired Gulbis as a spokesperson earlier this year.

As part of her agreement, a condo at Pawleys Plantation is the California native and Las Vegas resident’s East Coast home away from home.

Gulbis said during the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 that she had some promotional work to do for NGM in the tournament’s aftermath and expected to be at her condo at Pawleys Plantation in early July for the first time this year. “I’ll use it on off weeks,” she said.

A different sweepstakes winner is being selected every month from submissions through www.Myrtlebeachtrips.com. Four of eight winners have been selected. Each winner will receive a four-night trip for two in November that will include three rounds of golf, a Friday night dinner with Gulbis, a round in which Gulbis will split time between the two foursomes created by the eight winners and a post-round lunch.

Carolinas lead effort

The Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association was the leader in the first phase of the 2014 Rounds 4 Research effort to raise funds for turfgrass research that will benefit the golf industry.

The first phase of the program, which is run by the Environmental Institute For Golf (EIFG), sold more than 600 rounds and yielded $115,500 in a June online auction. The total was a 7 percent increase over 2013 efforts. The EIFG is the philanthropic organization of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GSCAA).

The Carolinas raised more than $35,000 through 45 partners that donated rounds. The top overall bid was $1,800 for a stay-and-play package offered by French Lick Resort at West Baden Springs, Ind., while the high bid for a tee time for four golfers was $1,508 for the chance to play at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, home to the PGA Tour Championship.

The second online auction for Rounds 4 Research will run from Aug. 1-10, to coincide with the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Online bidding will be offered at www.rounds4research.com. The national campaign is supported by a $50,000 donation from The Toro Company and the program has raised more than $290,000 since being launched in 2012.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284 or on Twitter @alanblondin, or read his blog Green Reading at myrtlebeachonline.com

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